Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is A Little Knowledge A Dangerous Thing?

The expertise of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence is in the area of addressing domestic violence as a workplace issue.  We take this very seriously.  After all, helping employers thinking through how best to implement policies and programs regarding domestic violence is serious business.  This cannot be done halfway.

I recently saw an "expert" interviewed about domestic violence and the workplace who suggested that one way workplaces could keep victims safe would be to have them work AT HOME

This is probably one of the least safe things a person could ever recommend. While it is true that an abuser can  find a victim at a physical workplace, the abuser can most certainly always find a victim at home, and at home, the victim is alone and vulnerable and does not necessarily have all the workplace supports and mechanisms and physical barriers available that one does at a physical workplace (which is one of the reasons telecommuting must be planfully considered when addressing domestic violence and safety for employees.  But that is a topic for another blogpost).

I am not sure if this "expert" was not thinking, if he/she was misquoted, or if the person is really not an expert at all.  After all, a little knowledge -- when dealing with domestic violence as a workplace issue -- is a dangerous thing.

I shudder to think of this piece of misinformation being requoted as "good advice" or read by an employer who, without any other outside input, uses this piece of information, thinking it would be "safer for an employee to work at home" than at the workplace.

When addressing domestic violence as a workplace issue, it is not enough to have good intentions, it is not enough to care about domestic violence.  One has to be able to understand a workplace and how to best keep it safe.

There is a system of Three R’s that we recommend to workplaces wishing to address domestic violence as a workplace issue (and this information is available on our website at http://www.caepv.org  in our Six Steps to Creating a Workplace Program document.)

Recognize – Recognize that domestic violence has an impact on your workplace and learn how to see potential signs in your employees or co-workers

Respond – Responding at work should always be in the context of behavior and performance. The goal is not to violate an employee’s privacy, but rather be able to say (for example) “You are a valued team member. There have been changes in your performance and you are missing your target goals and seem more distracted than usual. Is there anything going on that I can help you with?” The employee may not share anything, in which case you can remind him or her of the resources available and remind the employee that your door is always open. And if the employee does share, you can move to the next “R” – Refer.

Responding to someone outside the workplace is a bit different. For help with that, check out one of my blog posts about approaching someone you care about if you are concerned they may not be in a safe relationship.

Refer – Refer the employee to the resources within the workplace (such as EAP, HR, etc) that can assist them and also refer the employee to the community resources that can provide help.

There is actually a fourth “R” if a workplace gets really good - Reach Out. Partner with the community and other employers.

This is a very brief overview of steps an employer can take to address domestic violence as a workplace issue - and our website is full of resources and information to assist.  More information is available on our website at http://www.caepv.org/ as well as in the article mentioned above. 

It is our hope that employers and victims are given the information that increases safety. We don't want a little knowledge to be a dangerous thing for anyone.


KWG said...

Kim, I really hope the person was misquoted, because that's like sending Daniel into the lion's den while God takes a vacation in a nearby universe.

I also wonder if there wasn't an ulterior motive in that sending the victim home gives the workplace a reprieve from danger and from the responsibility (another "R" word) of helping to create a safe environment and providing counseling services of some kind via an EAP.

Not our problem, so go home and lock your doors. I hope that wasn't the subtextual context.

Thank you for outlining activities employers can do to generate awareness, encourage intervention and provide services to help.

Fight the good fight.

Kim Wells said...

Kevin - as always you get perfectly to the point! I love it. Unfortunately this "expert" is one who was trying to explain how a workplace can help as someone who truly thought he/she was helping victims...thus my concern and the blogpost that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Just as you and I do not practice in areas where we do not have expertise, I think it is so dangerous for people to decide they are somehow "experts" on domestic violence and the workplace..no matter how well meaning. And as always..thank you for making this "your business."

Kim Wells said...
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Larry said...

Kim, I too, just like Kevin, hope that it was a misquote!!!

Surely anyone with even tangential knowledge of the issues around DV in the workplace etc wouldn't make a statement like that...or am I being naive?

Kim Wells said...

Larry - thank you for your comment and you've made my point for me exactly. Anyone with even a tangential issue would not think this was wise counsel...so why is this person suggesting this? Because they are probably not well-trained in the issue. Or perhaps it is a typo. I HOPE the person is misquoted...but I actually saw the person give this advice in more than one place....

I think it is important that people do not "just decide" to become experts on an issue because they "care" about it. Similarly, although CAEPV is often asked to do larger workplace violence assessments, etc., we do not, because it is beyond the scope of our expertise (except as domestic violence and workplace violence intersect).

"First do no harm" is an important principle in this space that is truly a life or death issue at times.

And thank YOU for all you do, Larry! It is good to have people like you there!

Nater Associates, Ltd. said...

Kim, misquote or not this sought of advice creates future doubt in the hearts and minds of responsible leaders who genuinely are searching for answers will do more harm than good.

Ill advice does more damage than good especially when espoused by a so called expert who is relied upon in a time of need. In a way, the misquote serves a larger purpose by creating this dialogue that will eventually rectify the misinformation. Hopefully, it will direct those seeking genuine and thoughtful advice to a reknown expert like you, whose stated goals and objectives are finding workable workplace solutions that provides the best tactical and strategic benefits.

Thanks to this "experts" misstatement we will have nullified the disservice his regretable advice and served to increase awareness.

Kim Wells said...

Felix - thank you so much for your wise thoughts. You are so right that this sort of misinformation is indeed a cause for doubt...and also a cause for good discussion. I am most thankful for leaders like you and Larry and Kevin who are out there doing the right thing and providing good information and practice to those you serve. And of course we all make mistakes, and we are all learning. It is just so important that when we are not sure, we do not "go there."